05 Daniel Brooks in Italy


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Ranocchiaia, Italy

by Daniel Brooks

daniel brooks


Myself and my family moved to Italy a little over one year ago to come and help a friend build his dream and eco village. We thought it may even be somewhere we could settle and make a home for our family. We lived rough there for about 8 months, most of which time i was unfortunately recovering from a broken neck after falling though the old farmhouse roof in the first weeks. During our stay it became clear that it was not what we had been dreaming of, so we left the lovely folk of Frittole behind and moved on in search for a new place. We visited several eco villages and had some amazing times and met some incredible people but we did not find what we were looking for. Then our attention was drawn to the Apuane Mountains by the sea in Tuscany. A friend of a friend had found an amazing little abandoned valley and we all went to check it out. It was perfect…except for the fact that it was on the north side of the mountains and was very cold and without enough sun for much of the year. I went home and searched the surrounding area on Google earth. Just over the mountain from the shady valley, on the sunny side, i was immediately attracted to what looked on the satellite image, to be an old abandoned village with no road to it. We went to check it out.

We needed our friends 4×4 to get as far as we could drive up a rough track and then walked for half an hour along an ancient stone trail through beautiful woodland. A pair of Golden Eagles greeted us on our first visit (the first i have seen since leaving Scotland) and we manifested a magnificent male Moufloni (wild mountain sheep) just as we were talking about them.

The village was STUNNING! No one lived there anymore. But most of the old stone houses were still habitable and were used for holidays and weekend breaks. A beautiful little stream tumbled down between the houses with pools i could imagine our children bathing in, and little wooden bridges crossing it. This place was straight out of Lord of the Rings. Incredible view, lots of sun, old terraced hillside for our gardens. We were very excited!

An old couple that owned one of the homes were there visiting and told us that several of the homes were for sale. They invited us in for a coffee and some homemade grappa and gave us the low down.

On leaving the village we went straight to track down a couple of the owners that were keen to sell and discovered that they were going for reasonable prices, compared to todays insane house costs. Each house came with its own piece of land.

All we have to do now is summon up some funds…we have feelers out far and wide and several wonderful people that i have been in communication with are very interested to get involved and help create a wonderful new life and village for themselves. Would anyone on this group be interested to help inject some life and energy back into this ancient village. Does anyone have any great ideas of how to raise the funds or have a very rich friend or family member who would be more than happy to invest their money in something positive like this that could be a wonderful example of how we can change our lifestyles and become more respectful and live more in tune with our earth and fellow man.

We had envisioned this place to be a centre for learning. For children and adults alike. For learning all things worth knowing to enable us to move into a more sustainable future. Experience has led us to believe that the founding members of this community would have to agree on a few basic things in order to achieve a stable foundation on which to build. Love, compassion, tolerance, acceptance…etc.  Spring is arriving here in Tuscany and we are keen to get the ball rolling. Feel free to ask any questions. We know this is a commonly shared dream, so hopefully several of us can all make each others dream come true. Love and Light to you all. xxxx

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by Daniel Brooks


4th JULY 2014:

I scratched a mozzie bite on my foot so ferociously that it made it all raw, and then got horribly infected. Family wanted me to go to the doctor. It had become painful to walk and was very swollen from my ankle to my toes. I said pee would soon sort it out. I bandaged it up with a pee soaked bandage and put a plastic bag over it for the night, taping it around my ankle. It worked wonders. In the morning the swelling had gone right down and it was hardly hurting at all. The infection really knocked me for six though and i have spent the last 36 hours in bed. No energy, aching, feverish and having the wierdest dreams about sequences of numbers every time i closed my eyes. Feeling better today….going home to catch up with Julie Scrafton and Treacle Tart who have been staying the last couple of days in our humble abode whilst we were with family and i was recovering. Looking forward to catching up with them and spending some quality time together. xxxx

29th JUNE 2014:

We are staying at Deborah’s sisters house just outside Florence. In all my years and all my travels i have NEVER experienced being in the heart of such a violent storm in my life. Short but incredibly powerful. Massive blinding bolts of lighting crashed around the house knocking out the electrics and terrifying us all. A few of which earthed within a hundred meters of our open window. I can still see the bolt when i close my eyes it was so bright. 100+ mile an hour winds bent the trees in front of our eyes until they started to crack and then break. Huge branches falling in the neighbors garden. A complete blackout…not being able to see more than a few meters from such heavy rain. There was a minute or so where things really went so crazy it was like an end of the world scenario. AWESOME does not describe the last fifteen minutes. Nature is AMAZING! And it continues on. Torrential rain still and the lightening and thunder is still cracking and rumbling outside…in fact its getting more wild again right now. Theres nothing quite like the power of nature. xxxx

20th JUNE 2014:

OK….VERY EXCITED! I made FIRE! The most basic skill humans learnt thousands of years ago and one which we have all but lost. I have NEVER seen anyone make fire before! I owe thanks to Maz Capone and Keith J Neary for showing me how though a few years ago. I remembered well and have even tried a few times since but with no success. I decided the other day that i really need to master this skill in order to be able to share this important knowledge and feel closer to nature and fire itself. Its a magical feeling to have achieved it! I managed it on the first day of efforts. I prepared all the pieces from wood i found around the house and prepared with an axe and a knife. In the morning i got a lot of smoke and then the bow broke. In the evening i fashioned a new lovely bow from an olive branch and on the second attempt managed to get a smoky ember. I tipped it into the dry grass nest i had prepared and blew…It glowed and burnt the whole thing before i could no longer hold it. It was too small. Then i dropped it and kept blowing…it errupted into the most glorious flame i have ever seen. Very proud! Going to keep going and master doing this out in the forest with different woods. I was especially happy that the first choice of drill and board worked so well. NOW…i consider myself a man. I”m a fire starter….a little twisted…but a fire starter non the less. Lesson number 1 completed!

Went to see my good friend Terry Davies the potter, the other day and do a little work for his neighbour chopping logs. I walked the hour and a half through the beautiful tuscan countryside to get there and then took a detour on the way home to look at the calanche and the falcons etc. I found the nest Terry! Four young! One flying already and the other three jumping around flapping their wings being dived bombed by mum to encourage them to take the leap of faith. Its on a wall past the crumbling old house. I found a great viewing place from the other side of the calanche accessed by an old road a 100m before the agritourismo on the Certaldo side. I looked up from watching the young falcons and saw an eagle perched on top of the cliff opposite the spires. The falcons were diving at it. It then took off and flew circling the calanche at head height or below me at times and came within 30m or so, looking right into my binoculars and deep into my eyes. After all my hundreds of hours watching golden eagles on my home island of Mull i have never had such an amazing view of an eagle. This is a Short Toed Eagle…so great to see it so close and also perched for the first time. The immature Peregrine turned up again as well and was attacked by the kestrel parents too. She’s an aggresive and protective mum! I walked home via some gorgeous old ruins in the remote area beside the Calanche….long since deserted….olive groves…great flat areas for crops…etc….might have to find out who owns that amazing place. Anyway…another lovely walk…..deer and porcupine on the way home too. I slept well that night i can tell you. Big love…..xxxx

14th JUNE 2014:

I had the most amazing experience last night! Ourselves some friends and our neighbours had gathered for some communal food, music, bio organic wine etc. The kids were all playing with each other and tumbling with the adults and much fun was had by all. After some had gone to Bed, Mani our neighbour came to the fire and told us that the chinghiale (wild boar) were raiding his field of grain and so i jumped up and went to investigate. I ran bare foot down the side of the field screaming to scare them off as i went. Immediately the pigs reacted and started to run. I could hear them crashing through the cereal in an attempt to escape this crazy human. I ran as fast as i could…over the baked hard lumpy ground…which is pretty fast for a 43 year old. Very fast actually…i went like the wind screaming as scarrily and crazily as possible to scare them off the crop. I quickly went from scare them off mode to full on hunter mode. Predator mode, and the wild boar were my target. A few shadowy figures ran out of the crop ahead of me and off into the olive grove with me in hot pursuit, but i could hear others running parallel to me and then they too broke cover ahead of me and i ran off chasing and screaming after them through the olives. Still they kept coming! There must have been at least ten if not twenty wild boar and a few of them were giants. They were scared….and i was fully charged like a wolf! I was actually competing with them almost for speed and at one point i would have said i was within effective spear range, although it would have taken some adonis type warrior to have thrown one with any accuracy in that dark and high speed chase. My bare feet were red hot afterwards and pulsating with the beating they had just received but amazingly i had avoided any sprains or breaks. I am pretty confident they will not be back again tonight. A big leap forward in my own re wilding journey. I felt more alive and more full of nature pure energy than i have felt for a very long time. It was a very beautiful experience. Off into the mountains again today to see some friends and party some more. Love and light to you all…. xxxx Life is good and only getting better.

26th MAY 2014:

Just had a couple of great days up in the mountains with my bestest buddy Keith J Neary. We caught a train, and hitched up to Gallicano, Garfanana in the Apuane. From there we walked up to the Trombacco lake under Trasillico and found what used to be a car park which is now a sandy debris full beach from floodwaters last winter and slept there under the stars in our sleeping bags. ( Sorry to Domindomito Tre and others for being so close and not visiting but we had a small window with which to climb the Pania and had our eyes set on the prize. )
We set off early the next day stopping at a lovely little coffee shop in Fornovolasco to bathe in some early morning sun before setting off up the trail towards Monte Forato and the Hole in the Wall. We saw a couple of dark colored squirrels which are not a common sight here in much of Tuscany heard a short toed eagle over head and animals running off through the undergrowth as we warmed our muscles for the climb ahead making our way up through this glorious old woodland. We arrived a little over an hour later at the impressive hole in the wall and looked down on Pruno and Ranocchiaia. The view of the surrounding mountains was stunning and we sat having a snack and soaking up the sun and the beauty. A pair of black redstarts carried food to their chicks in a crack in the rock at the top of the arch and a couple of rare Ravens flew over croaking.
We continued on up the rocky and impressive ridge with amazing views down both sides, spotting some new abandoned houses not too far from Ranocchiaia that need checking out. A few small groups of Moufloni with lambs ran away from us as we approached. We reached the bottom of the steep alpine meadow leading up to the peak and teamed up with a local who had just popped up from Cordosa on the other side and the three of us started the long slog up to the rocky ridge passing an ever increasing number of stunning alpine flowers. We reached the ridge in good time and a few Yellow Billed Choughs wheeled around us on the updraughts. We choose to take the direct route which apparently involved a little easy climbing straight up the ridge and indeed there were a few hairy moments that required keeping a clear cool head. Half an hour later we were on top of the world. The first mountain i have summited on in far too long. 1858m.
Several others had already reached the top up the easier tourist routes of course and we shared the stunning vista with them for half an hour or so before heading off to find a little quiet spot for a little meditation and thanks giving. We made our way down the other side making our way to Ranocchiaia. I saw a little brown falcon that i could not identify and a distant view of Golden Eagle.
We reached the col and refugio at Moscetta and enjoyed some wine and a plate of cold cuts in the sun as our reward. I’m not used to these hotels in the mountains. We made our way down after lunch to Ranocchiaia where we collapsed in the shade and had a siesta.
Later as we lay falling asleep under the stars in this amazing place, nightjars started to churr all around and owls hooted and flew over head. Bats flitted around us and a Roe deer barked its horny bark from the woods nearby. Life is wonderful….Thanks Keith, and thank you Universe. Will post up some pics if we can figure out how. xxxx Love and Light.

17th MAY 2014:

I have NEVER seen anything like it in my life. There are SOOOOO many fireflies outside in the olive grove. It is magical!!!!! We all just went outside and sat in the tall grass watching natures light show. Oliver asked if we could sleep outside with them. How can i refuse? So grabbing a futon mattress and a couple of sleeping bags and were off. Good night guys. Love and lots and lots of lights….the stars are shining too…as above so below. xxxx Life is wonderful.

16th MAY 2014:

I just witnessed something very beautiful in the piazza of our local town. Myself and my kids were running around playing when Hazel started to cry about something that was bothering her and reaching down to her knee. I asked her several times what was wrong but she kind of refused to answer me, calming down and then starting to cry again. She went and sat with her brother on a park bench and then another little girl came over who must have been three, a year older than Hazel, and started to stroke Hazel’s knee very gently and putting her finger tip on different parts as if doing some reiki or something. She continued to do so for a couple of minutes. Hazel was completely calm and spell bound with this girl as was Oliver and myself who all stared at her as she administered her healing. I don’t think she had even seen or heard any interaction between Hazel and myself. Anyway…..for me it was a very magical moment. It helped also that this little girl looked like some wise old native american. I was going to talk to her mother and say that maybe she had a gift. But didn’t. Maybe if i see them again.

9thWe are in cherry heaven here now. The kids especially. There are two huge old cherry trees on the edge of the vinyard below where we are living. They are FULL of gorgeous big ripening cherries. Picked a little basket for our neighbours and one for ourselves today. Got to get in there quick before the birds ave em all. Yum! Bring on the summer fruit. Next will be the Mulberries. Then apricots, peaches, plums and then the figs…Oh…bring on the figs.

8th MAY 2014:

I was invited to attend a peyote ceremony with some beautiful souls. As we sat in a circle of some forty people around the sacred fire, a rare nightjar started to call in the woods nearby. I took it as a positive sign. Fireflies emerged from their daytime hiding places and flew amongst us. Nightingales sang throughout the entire ceremony until dawn. The stars shone down on this clearing complete with tee pee in the woods, and the moon cast shadows across the glade. Tawny and Little Owls called around us. In the morning, we were greeted by a Golden Oriole singing nearby and colorful Bee Eaters flew overhead chirping. A Cuckoo sang its famous call with an italian accent, definitely different from those we hear in the UK.
I have mixed feelings about the ceremony. It was not what i was hoping for or believe it could be. But many people appeared to find it very wonderful and emotional and to get a lot from it. For me… what was more beautiful, were the clear signs i was receiving from nature. That we are surrounded by incredible beauty and magic and that if we only immerse ourselves into it and learn to watch and listen and understand….then i believe that is the magic and spirit we really need first and foremost. To know how we fit into this circle of life.
Another thing that struck me during the ceremony is that it was very structured with a strong and very strict hierarchy. I couldn’t help but see the obvious connection to government ( governare = control, and mente = mind ) We had the “shaman”. He was surrounded by his appointed helpers and peace keepers, guards etc. Then there were others that obviously had higher standing and were granted privileges others were not. The shaman and his helpers dominated the ceremony with their personal views, addressing them to the circle as if they were facts for all to ingest.
For me, this kind of ceremony should be more about learning something from the spirit of the teacher plant. The dose was so weak that no one i spoke with afterwards had experienced anything like the depth of journeying one usually must experience to assist in spiritual connection and learning. Anyway…as i said…many appeared to benefit and for me also it was an interesting and very beautiful experience. I certainly needed that. Love and Light to all. xxxx